Republicans’ long public nightmare came to an end this past week when Louisiana’s Mike Johnson became the 56th speaker of the House. If you’re like most people who claim to be smart about politics, you immediately pretended to know who he was and then went to Google him.
This has led to a bit of a debate about Johnson’s ideological record. Just how conservative is he? A look at the data reveals that Johnson is most certainly well to the right of the median American voter. But he is actually fairly close to the center of a Republican Party that has shifted further right in recent years.
Joe Biden, of course, was the legitimate winner of that election, and there is no real proof that he wasn’t. Most general election voters agree that Biden won the election legitimately. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that just 29% of registered voters feel he didn’t.
Among Republicans, however, 60% of them said Biden’s win wasn’t legitimate, according to that same poll. Only 23% disagreed.
Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Republicans (70%) in a recent CNN/SSRS survey indicated that the criminal charges Trump faces over his failed attempts to overturn the 2020 election are not relevant to his fitness to serve another term. Even among the general electorate, just 49% said it should be disqualifying.
Indeed, we can’t forget that a clear majority of House Republicans (139 of them, including Johnson) voted against certifying 2020 election results from at least one state. Their votes were outside the mainstream among all House members but not within the House Republican Conference.
The same is true for an amicus brief that Johnson led supporting an effort to get the Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election results in four Biden-won states. Most House members didn’t sign. A majority of House Republican members (126) did.
The fact is, whether you like it or not, arguing that Biden was the rightful winner of the 2020 election is the minority point of view among Republicans today.
Johnson has also faced criticism for his position on abortion. He co-sponsored a bill to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks.
A May Gallup poll found that 59% of Americans were opposed to such legislation, with 37% in favor. This lines up with the pro-abortion rights side winning every abortion-related ballot measure since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, including in several red states.
But take a look at what that same poll found among Republicans: A majority (61%) wanted abortion banned after six weeks. Johnson, again, is within the mainstream of his party.
Legislatively, most Southern states have enacted bans on abortion at six weeks or even earlier.
I could go on and on about Johnson’s record on different issues that many object to, and we’ll find fairly consistently that while he may not be with the median general election voter, he is with the median Republican voter.
This is best seen through aggregate statistics compiled by the academics at Voteview. Since entering the House in 2017, Johnson has built a voting record that is more conservative than 81% of all members currently serving. He is, however, only more conservative than 63% of his GOP colleagues. In other words, 37% of House Republicans are more conservative than the new speaker. That puts Johnson right in the middle third of today’s House Republican Conference.
In fact, Johnson has voted with the Republican majority 94% of the time this Congress. That almost matches the median House Republican member (93%).
To put that in perspective, take a look at failed speaker hopeful Jim Jordan. The Ohio congressman’s voting record is more conservative than 91% of other House Republicans. Unlike Johnson, Jordan really is out of the mainstream not just within Congress overall but the House Republican Conference, as well.
This isn’t to say that Johnson isn’t more conservative than the Republicans of yesteryear. It’s just that Republicans, as a whole, have become more conservative.
For example, Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers, who was first elected in 1980 and is the longest-serving House Republican incumbent, was more conservative than 59% of GOP members during his first term. He’s more moderate than over 80% of House Republicans today.
And Republican members of Congress remain representative of their voters. According to a 1982 CBS News poll, less than 50% of adults who self-identified as Republican called themselves conservative. This past year, Gallup has found that over 70% of Republicans say they are conservative.
Of course, polls also show that Democrats have become considerably more liberal over the same stretch. As a result, independents, who are about as likely to identify as moderate as they were 40 years ago, probably feel like neither party represents them.
But there are no independents in the House. There are Democrats and Republicans. And it’s in this political universe where someone like Johnson could have attained the House speakership. He’s simply emblematic of today’s GOP.
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